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Assume v. Presume

Luke

Well-Knwοn Мember
Here's a thought (not looked into it): less is to more as fewer is to what?
In most computer languages isn't the opposite of the ternary operator less greater?

Edit: Perhaps that's just the Pennsylvanian (Backus) influence?
 

Trev

The Dumb One
The rule of thumb that I use, and believe to be correct, to decide the usage of less and fewer, is that if you can count them, it's fewer, as in fewer men (you can count men, ships, children etc.). If you can't count it, it's less as in less manpower (you can't count manpower, tonnage, courage etc.):frantic:
 
OP
Black Hole

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
That works for me, but following it up in Wikipedia apparently it is a misconceived rule:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fewer_vs._less said:
Another common misconception about the distinction between the words is that less and fewer are used for describing uncountable and countable nouns, respectively. This is untrue, however, as the distinction is simply singular vs. plural. Take the example, "I have one less item." By following the countable vs. uncountable rule, one would assume that "one fewer item" would be correct (one item is most certainly countable), but this is false.
The same article goes on to say that Alfred the Great (whom we might presume to have been well educated for his day) used 'less' in the 9th century, and the introduction of 'fewer' only dates to the 18th century.

To get back to my conundrum, I think less is to more as fewer is also to more. It seems to me a peculiarity that a distinction is made between usages for 'less' and 'fewer' when there is no equivalent for 'more', and further that the word 'fewer' does nothing to increase the vocabulary other than to give grammaticists something to argue about.
 

fenlander

Active Member
As is usually the case in these discussions: at the end of the day you can hold whatever opinion you like. It doesn't necessarily make it right, though.
 
OP
Black Hole

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
So true. My aim is to get people thinking for themselves and split an infinitive when they decide it is appropriate instead of never doing it because of being brainwashed that it's a no-no! :D
 

Trev

The Dumb One
That works for me, but following it up in Wikipedia apparently it is a misconceived rule:.
But the Wiki's 'one less/fewer item' theory is a load of blx. The items have already been counted (one) so cannot be counted again, that is unless someone devises a 'counted squared' theory. 'One item' cannot be counted for the purposes of the 'rule' as it already has been and the quantity has been concisely defined. So according to the Wiki, "ten or less items" in the supermarket basket checkout would be correct, and should not incur the wrath of the pedants.
I would boldly go as far as to say, "less is to more as fewer is to lots". "More" has not been counted, "lots" has.:eek: I must nip over to the Wiki, and change it so thet I am right;)
 

af123

Administrator
Staff member
The rule I was taught was that fewer is used for things which are discrete whereas less is applied to a continuum.
That's subtly different to the countable versus uncountable nouns rule, for example it leaves time periods using less, as in "less than 30 seconds" - a 30 second period is a continuum, less than 30s could be 29.48323s...

Often, the countable/uncountable rule is taught with time periods being mentioned as an exception.

Is less to much as fewer is to many?
How much sand, how many grains of sand - less sand, fewer grains of sand.
 

Trev

The Dumb One
But you can't count "seconds" because by inference they have already been counted, there is more than one of them and the word seconds is a plural. The time interval under discussion is a second and you can count them, so as you've already counted them, 'less than 30 seconds' is correct and does not 'break the rule'.
BTW. the sand analogy works because grains of sand can be counted, but the word sand is generally accepted as a plural of grains of sand ;=). How about sheep (or fish) then as in sheep (one) and sheep (more than one). So is it less sheep or fewer sheep:frantic:
Just to add a bit of interest, why does the chancellor of the exchequer, and other people who should know better refer to "one pence"? Do they not know that the UK's smallest 'copper' coin is one penny and you cannot grammatically correctly have one of a plural noun? (with the possible exception of trousers etc. which are incorrectly pluralised anyway)
 

fenlander

Active Member
Just to add a bit of interest, why does the chancellor of the exchequer, and other people who should know better refer to "one pence"? Do they not know that the UK's smallest 'copper' coin is one penny and you cannot grammatically correctly have one of a plural noun? (with the possible exception of trousers etc. which are incorrectly pluralised anyway)
Usage rules. 20 years from now, 'one pence' will be as normal as 'the available data does not support your conclusion'. Shock horror.:eek:
 
OP
Black Hole

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
I jump for joy when the Chancellor announces tax is going up by 2p - later I find he was lying.
 
OP
Black Hole

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
Oh dear. I was watching "Metal: How It Works", and the prof presenting it - a scientist - said "aluminium is three times lighter than steel".

Arrrgggghhhhh!!!!!!
 

af123

Administrator
Staff member
Instead of less dense/less massive do you mean?
Or even lighter at constant gravity, pressure and temperature...
 

Trev

The Dumb One
Instead of less dense/less massive do you mean?.
But surely it can't be three times less dense, can it? I suppose it can if the multiplier is 0.33 rather than 3. But that's not what he said.
As far as getting a life is concerned, this IS the Hummy Arms, and it is not a requirement for those contributing here to have one ;=) And the topic is about semantics after all:cool:
 
OP
Black Hole

Black Hole

May contain traces of nut
"three times heavier than" - OK
"one third the weight of" - OK

I know what people intend to mean when they say something like "three times lighter than", but it's like "90% fat free" or "three times cheaper" - how can any scientist/engineer/statistician/etc say something like that and still look people in the eye?

When they say "there has been a 250% increase in pump prices over the last 5 years" (I don't know if that is accurate, I just made it up), I don't these days know whether to interpret that as 1:3.5 (as it would mean if taken literally) or 1:2.5 (as I suspect it is taken to mean by the uninformed). This latter interpretation gets used because it should be a "150% increase", but "250% increase" sounds more shocking.

The problem is not understanding "three times lighter" (which is obviously absurd because it ought to mean a negative weight), but similar phrases which could lead to two plausible interpretations - one of which is correct usage but the other of which is the interpretation in the mind of the speaker. Suddenly English comprehension becomes a case of mind-reading and guess work.

Furthermore, "one third the weight of" has the same number of syllables and fewer letters than "three times lighter than", so there is actually no advantage to this instance of sloppiness!

This is my life! (yes I know it was in jest)
 
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